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Customer Satisfaction Is The Strategic Advantage In Health Care


Roderick M. McNealy
Roderick M. McNealy, Director, Customer-Driven Quality, Johnson & Johnson Health Care Systems Inc. 425 Hoes Lane, Piscataway, NJ 08854, 732-562-2110,

83rd Annual International Conference Proceedings - 1998 

Abstract. Customer Satisfaction is THE Strategic Advantage for any organization, regardless of industry. This is particularly true in today's Health Care climate of Managed Care, given the increasing decision-making power of the patient-customer. This presentation focuses on the need to focus management on the importance of the patient-customer and their power to "make or break" organizations. The focus is on Customer Satisfaction as a strategic approach, not a tactical measurement exercise. The goal is to have organizations adopt Customer Satisfaction as their primary strategic focus. World Class organizations clearly understand this and their marketplace performance reflects this learning and focus. It is vital that all organizations translate this message throughout their management structure.

Customer Satisfaction is THE Strategic Advantage for any organization, regardless of industry. Customer Satisfaction is so important because product and service companies alike, health care organizations, and even educational institutions must preserve their customer resources with the same energy and enthusiasm that we as a nation seek to preserve our natural resources.

Our current customers are our organization's vital natural resources. We will be doomed as a civilization in spite of our material accomplishments if we squander our natural resources and continue to poison the air, the ground, and the water. We face an equally bleak future as an organization if we persist in making it difficult or unpleasant for our customers to deal with us and if we let our customer resources depart without any conscious effort to retain them.

The World Class Customer Satisfaction organizations are uniquely focused on their customers. Their external focus is constant throughout the organization. There is no question in any employee's mind - from the chairman and chief executive officer to the newest member on the payroll - that customers are our most important resource and therefore are to be treasured. Because our customers are so valuable, they should be an integral part of every aspect of our planning process. Their needs and expectations - even though they may be ever changing - should be continually monitored, measured, and communicated throughout our organization.

The World Class Customer Satisfaction organization realizes that everyone within it has a role to play in satisfying that customer. It is never seen as merely "sales' job" or consigned to the realm of "customer service". Customer Satisfaction is the responsibility of the most senior management and everyone in the organization plays a part.

Importantly, an organization represents itself to customers not as one entity, but rather through a series of individual contacts or "Moments of Truth". Often these "Moments of Truth" occur in the most unlikely and unforeseen situations. For example, a hospital may pride itself on its fully integrated structure, covering all the medical needs of a wide range of patients and their families. It may possess a national reputation and a staff of highly recognized physicians and expert and caring nurses. Yet, patients and their families will have the greatest contact with the food service and housekeeping staffs of most hospitals, rather than with the highly regarded clinical staff.

The same is true in physician groups. These highly trained physicians may have impeccable credentials and possess remarkable clinical skills, but their patients and potential patients will first contact their practice through their receptionist, either on the phone or in person. For all intents and purposes, their practice is that receptionist, that first impression. Yet the receptionist, the food service worker, the housekeeper, may have received little if any training on the importance of customer satisfaction and their critical role in both representing their organization and delighting customers.

Further, World Class Customer Satisfaction organizations are structured to facilitate, not impede, the role of those interacting with customer. The added procedures, the needless paperwork, the redundant management layers, the interminable staff meetings, the internally focused priorities have all been eliminated in favor of a customer focus. Those in the organization dealing with our customer - and there are far more people within our organization that deal with them than we currently think! - are confident in the knowledge that the entire organization is focused to assist them in meeting and finally exceeding our customers' needs and expectations. Want to prove this issue to yourself and your organization? Take a "field trip" to a public phone away from the confines of your office. Call your organization's main number. How many times does the phone ring? Who answers the phone? What do they sound like? What information can they provide? What business can you transact? Next, call after normal business hours, as if you were a customer from a different time zone, and see what the answers are to these same questions.

World Class Customer Satisfaction organizations reinforce their strategic and structural focus on the customer through their reward and recognition process. The message transmitted through a wide variety of employee recognition, reward, and promotion activities reaffirms the primacy of our customer - we will succeed when our customers' needs and expectations are exceeded. These leading organizations know full well that "what gets recognized gets repeated", so they continually recognize and reward customer-focused behaviors.

World Class Customer Satisfaction organizations are not limited to the Fortune 500, to a specific "industry," or to production and hardware organizations. Every organization has customers and it will succeed or fail based upon its ability to "go beyond" what is currently expected. Clearly, automobile manufacturers, appliance and electronics makers, and service organizations all have customers. But so do hospitals, integrated delivery systems, Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), Group Purchasing Organizations (GPOs), advertising agencies, banks, restaurants, hotels, school boards, college and university administrations, the military, and even our local, state, and the federal government. (Just look at what customers are saying about the lack of customer focus at the IRS now that they have been given a public forum!)

Some of these organizations are acutely aware of the primacy of the customer and they will "live to fight another day" because of their external customer focus. Other organizations, from these same categories, have little or no understanding of their customers and they will be relegated to the dustbin of obsolescence with the other organizations that failed to realize that "the customer is King, long live the King!"

The beauty of Customer Satisfaction is that it is totally quantifiable and measurable. It is not a "warm, fuzzy feeling" or something that must be taken "on faith". Any organization, regardless of industry, can obtain a direct and unimpeded ear to the customer's voice and they should be ravenous to hear what these customers have to say.

As we enter the world of the twenty-first century, many new and different forces will confront us as individuals and as organizations. Nothing is as certain as the constancy of change. Few industries have undergone as rapid a change as Health Care has in the past four years and that pace is destined to continue, if not accelerate, into the foreseeable future. Health care is changing and evolving from within. There is no waiting for the government, either state or federal, to intervene. The market forces are fully deployed and are rapidly changing the face of Health Care, with no real end or finished product in sight.

Yet with all this change at hand, and all the change that is certain to take place in the future, there are still some aspects of our world that remain stunningly fixed and constant. For our organization, the first of these is that we must treat each customer as a valuable, irreplaceable resource and treat them as we would wish to be treated. It is just that simple. Other will endeavor to complicate this matter, but common sense must prevail.

We must always consider how we would wish to be treated if confronted by our own organization. We must always remind ourselves that we must have consistent standards in our personal and professional lives. We are always seeking value, always seeking those goods and services that exceed our needs and expectations, so why should our customers be any different? Once we have embraced this "single set of books" approach where our personal and professional behaviors are one, then we will be well on the road to Making Customer Satisfaction Happen.*

*McNealy, Roderick M. (1994) Making Customer Satisfaction Happen - A Strategy For Delighting Customers, Chapman & Hall, London.

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